A Ukrainian refugee who fled warn-torn Kyiv on an evacuation train says she plans to make Christmas in Derby as special as she can for her teenage son. Alona Vvedenska has bought a Christmas tree for their flat and is buying festive gifts for her relatives in Ukraine so she can ‘warm their hearts in these dark times’.
As well as celebrating Christmas ‘early’ – as the day of celebration in Ukraine is usually January 7, Alona also says she will also be donating money to the Ukrainian Army because they are defending her home. She said: “Unfortunately, in my home country there is great sorrow and war, and the mood is not festive at all.
“Right now, there is a blackout and not everyone has heat. I keep thinking about the evil and the fighting and the people in Ukraine without water.
“My son and I are lucky. We are here in the UK, with new friends and colleagues who have welcomed us. The warmth from everyone’s hearts makes me feel alive – and extremely thankful.”
Alona, who has worked for Derby PR and communications agency Nielsen McAllister since her arrival in the UK, says keeping her son, Yegor, cheerful is her priority. She said: “We will celebrate the holiday together. I bought Yegor a Christmas jumper and we decorated the flat with hanging stars.
“We will visit the Christmas markets, soak up the pre-holiday atmosphere and enjoy looking at all the Christmas lights. The two of us will also be spending time with our sponsors, who gave us a place to stay.
“In Ukraine, the Holy Supper is celebrated on the evening before Christmas. On this day, the forty days of fasting ends. To mark this, 12 fasting dishes are put on the table in honour of the 12 Apostles.
“All work is done before the first star appears in the sky. Since it is still a fasting day, there should be no meat, milk or eggs on the table. Instead, things like kutya, a traditional Christmas wheat berry pudding; uzvar, a Ukrainian Winter punch; and dumplings with mushrooms or cabbage, mushroom soup or borscht – a red beetroot soup.
“This year, because we’re in the UK, it is unlikely that I will cook 12 dishes for Christmas. This time, I want to mix it up and cook some Ukrainian food and some English cuisine.
“I want to try making turkey with cranberry sauce. In 2022, the Synod of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine allowed us to celebrate Christmas according to the new Julian calendar on December 25, so this year Ukrainians will celebrate Christmas at the same time as the British – and not on January 7 as before.”
Alona and Yegor arrived in the UK in April, as part of the Homes for Ukrainians scheme. The pair lived with a host family until recently when Alona was able to find her own flat and move out.
She joined Nielsen McAllister as an Account and Content Support Executive in July. Alona explains: “For me, it is very important when you are in a new country to get into its spirit and learn new traditions.
“Yegor and I have been able to do some exploring, soaking up the architecture, learning the language, and tasting local food. We’ve had our first Yorkshire pudding and the world’s tastiest brownie.
“Now I’m working at Nielsen McAllister with a team of welcoming, cheerful and creative people in Derby.” As a journalist, author of articles, and editor of national Ukrainian periodicals, Alona wanted to get back to work and use her expertise.
Alona’s sponsor, Derby businessman Nino Simone, contacted Nielsen McAllister, which was looking for a content specialist to support its rapid growth. Simon Wildash, Director of Nielsen McAllister, said: “We were already recruiting and struggling to find someone with the right set of skills to support new and existing clients.
“After meeting Alona, it was obvious she would be an asset to the team – and, of course, it feels amazing to be able to help someone in Alona’s circumstances.” Alona has more than 16 years of background working in PR, supporting international clients such as Rockwool and Siemens with market launches and press engagement.
As a journalist and editor, she has conducted interviews with celebrities and politicians and has been responsible for developing magazines from front cover to back. Alona is now actively using her literary skills and PR experience to further strengthen Nielsen McAllister’s content creation offering for existing and new clients.
At the same time, the Green Lane office has provided Alona with a welcoming and friendly environment, with the team bonding over everything from movies to food. Alona has already treated her new colleagues to borscht with papmushki.
Speaking about her difficult start to the year, Alona said: “The experience of war is something that is incredibly difficult to put into words. Everything that seems impossible or unbearable to us in peacetime becomes part of everyday life. It’s a state where you can’t feel normal, and the pain is just hellish.
“I am therefore heartily grateful to the UK and my new colleagues for the opportunity to live and work here. I am very happy to be a part of the Nielsen McAllister team and it’s helping me to achieve a degree of stability during such turbulent times.”
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